Sweeping Changes or Sweeping Under the Rug?
by Henry Spira
Does the recent announcement of sweeping new changes to meat inspectionopen opportunities to push the farm animal welfare issue onto the nationalagenda? Harmful bacteria kill more than 4,000 people a year and sickenfive million. The new policy calls for a more scientific approach to detectingE. coli and salmonella in meat and poultry. But just like the old policy,the focus remains on dealing with effects and ignoring causes. It coversup the consequences of the stressful conditions in which this country'sfarm animals are raised.
Today's endemic disease in farm animals is not the natural order ofthings. One need only see the filthy and cramped environments in whichtoday's chickens, turkeys, pigs and veal calves are raised to see the reasonfor the epidemic. When living beings are crammed indoors on a thick bedof fecal waste and forced to spend a lifetime choking on ammonia fumes,is it so surprising that the end result is diseased meat?
As the intensity of confinement has increased, so has the prevalenceof food borne diseases. The direct relationship between stress and diseaseis well documented. In humans and other animals.
There's an urgent need to focus on the causes of these illnesses andon prevention. It is universally recognized that prevention is more costeffective and more conducive to promoting well-being than treating diseasesafter the fact.
Such a prevention campaign could begin by examining the connection betweenthe escalating abuses of intensive confinement systems, the parallel demiseof animal health and the increase of food borne illnesses in humans whoeat them.
While our ideal is the non-violent dinner table, we recognize that eatinghabits tend to change slowly. As long as people continue to consider animalsas edibles, we need to relentlessly pressure industry and government todevelop, promote and implement humane standards in the rearing, transportand handling of farm animals. Reducing farm animal suffering would benefitboth the public and the animals.
There's another critical defect which remains unaddressed in the newprocedures. The USDA is mandated, by law, to both assure the safety ofmeat and at the same time promote the meat industry.
The futility of the government taking on conflicting roles was recentlydemonstrated by the ValuJet disaster. Just as in the case of aviation,the government cannot be an advocate for food safety while simultaneouslypromoting the meat industry.
Why the government should spend taxpayer dollars to market meat productsfor a multi-billion dollar industry defies logic. The health risks associatedwith a meat-centered diet are increasingly well documented. Would governmentmoney not be better spent in protecting public health? Current thinkingseems to be that the government should get out of the business of promotingthe airlines. It doesn't belong in the business of promoting meat either.
Henry Spira, Coordinator of Animal Rights International, was awardedAWI's 1996 Albert Schweitzer Medal .
AWI Quarterly Spring/Summer 1996, Volume 45, Numbers 2 &3
Is the Public Ready to Roast the Meat Industry?
by Henry Spira
For decades, the well-being of farm animals has been a largely ignoredissue. So it may come as a surprise that most Americans want animals tobe protected from cruelty. This is the overall finding of a recent telephonesurvey of 1,012 adults by the Opinion Research Corporation of Princeton,New Jersey, for Animal Rights International.
The survey found that 93% of US adults agreed that animal pain and sufferingshould be reduced as much as possible even though the animals are goingto be slaughtered anyway.
Nine out of ten adult Americans also disapprove of current methods ofraising food animals in spaces so confining that sows and calves can'teven turn around and that laying hens are unable to stretch their wings.
With these concerns, it's hardly surprising that more than eight outof ten people think the meat and egg industries should be held legallyresponsible for protecting farm animals from cruelty. And that 91% thinkthe US Department of Agriculture should be involved in protecting farmanimals from cruelty.
What may well alarm corporate executives is that on top of this, 58%of the public also believes that fast food restaurants and supermarkets,who profit from factory intensive farming, should be held legally responsiblefor protecting farm animals from cruelty.
Too often, in the past, animal protectionists have ignored the 95% ofanimals who do not necessarily rank high in popularity. But, this studyshows that the American public cares about all vulnerable animals. And,as demonstrated by the recent successful campaign to abolish the face brandingof cattle, they are ready to confront and challenge abuses in animal agriculture.
As the public focuses on the horrors of factory farming, smart-thinking,image-conscious corporations, who profit from animal agriculture, woulddo well to respond swiftly and pro-actively. The alternative will almostcertainly be a consumer backlash as animal protectionists begin to launchpublic awareness campaigns. In this connection, we have begun to use thesurvey to talk with major companies such as Campbell Soup, Heinz and PepsiCoabout setting humane animal standards for themselves and their suppliers.This was the successful formula which energized Revlon and the whole cosmeticsindustry in the 1980s.
Pressures on the meat-industrial complex will continue to intensifyfrom all directions. In addition to farm animal well-being issues, intensiveconfinement systems will be increasingly challenged on the grounds of publichealth, protecting the environment, feeding the starving millions and leavingsome quality of life for future generations.
AWI Quarterly Fall 1995, Volume 44, Number 4
Do Animal Protection Laws Dupe the Public?
by Henry Spira
"If, as Mahatma Gandhi states, 'The greatness of a nation and itsmoral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated', the UnitedStates is being left behind by much of Western Europe." So says DavidWolfson in a soon to be published study documenting the fact that presentlaws are of no help to the cruel realities suffered by seven billion farmanimals. Wolfson, an attorney in a major international law firm, suggeststhat while farm animals have no real legal protection, society perceivesthat they do.
As outlined by Wolfson, laws give the perception of protecting farmanimals but, in reality, provide little or no protection. Federal law failsto provide any protection to farm animals on the farm. Moreover, whilemany state cruelty laws still cover farm animals in theory, they are rarelyif ever applied. And most disconcerting is the trend of farm animals beingincreasingly excluded from the reach of state cruelty laws.
At present, 25 states exclude "accepted farming practices"from the reach of such cruelty laws. Nineteen states amended their statutesin the last twelve years. Eleven of these amended their statutes in thelast six years and in just the past year, two states amended their statecruelty statutes to exclude accepted animal agricultural practices. Theresult is that any "accepted farming practice" is legally permitted-- no matter how cruel. Obviously, there would be no need to amend statecruelty laws were there not the fear that accepted practices would be judgedcruel. In effect, Wolfson states, animal agriculture has been left to regulateitself.
Consequently, our legal system appears to acquiesce to dragging a halfdead cow, chained around her hind leg, through the stockyards and keepingcalves deliberately anemic by depriving them of the most basic foods andwater while imprisoning them in wooden crates for their entire short, utterlymiserable lives. "The reality in the US", says Wolfson "isthat our society, through its laws, seemingly condones cruelty to animals."
Is this how the American public wants farm animals to be treated? Muchhas happened in the past few years to suggest that not only are increasingnumbers of people opposed to the routine and needless misery inflictedon seven billion farm animals each year, but that industry and governmentare finally beginning to respond to the public's concerns
Encouraging developments include USDA's rapidly halting the face brandingof Mexican cattle in the wake of widespread public outrage. And the USDAthen following through by placing the issue of farm animal well-being ontheir agenda. Earlier, the American Meat Institute issued groundbreakingguidelines promoting the humane handling and transport of animals. MajorAmerican slaughter houses have recently replaced the shackling and hoistingof large conscious animals. And fast food giant McDonald's has told itssuppliers to adhere to guidelines for more humane treatment of farm animals.
These reforms are encouraging. Still, life for farm animals has neverbeen more miserable. Today, the only limits to increasing the confinementand trauma of farm animals are economic. The only reason they don't crammore laying hens into a cage is because the increased mortality would makeit less profitable. The same thing holds true for the pigs and veal calvesroutinely denied the most basic freedoms to turn around, lie down, andextend their limbs.
The enormous response to our recent campaign to end the face brandingof Mexican cattle suggests that the public will not tolerate animal abuseif it is made aware of the facts. But, as Wolfson notes, the public believesthat "although we eat animals, there are laws which prevent theseanimals from being treated cruelly." In reality, farm animals arebeing subjected to ever more stressful confinement systems and have nolegal protection.
How do we proceed? The public may want to replace or reduceits consumption of meat. At a minimum we can all agree that as long asthe public eats meat, there's a need to refine current methodsof animal agriculture. But in order to make informed choices, we need toknow the realities of confinement systems, transport, handling, and slaughterof farm animals. We also need to understand the lack of legal protectionfor farm animals and the need for a farm animal protection bill. The USDAand producer groups must be encouraged to promote the well-being of farmanimals. Users of the products of animal agriculture need to enforce morehumane standards for their suppliers.
Until the seven billion farm animals do have legal protection, agribusinessesneed to respond rapidly and substantively to emerging public concerns.If they don't, let's place them in the unenviable position of having topublicly defend their right to be cruel.
USDA Reviews Livestock Care and Handling atNation's Stockyards
In October, the US Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Packers and StockyardsAdministration announced completion of its review of handling practices,services, and facilities in US stockyards. USDA conducted the review inresponse to public complaints of cruel treatment of downed animals at stockyards."Downers" are animals who are unable to walk or stand withoutassistance.
USDA sent warning letters to 52 markets, citing practices that mustbe corrected or discontinued immediately. Eighty one downed animals wereobserved at 66 markets. A total of 1,415 markets were inspected. USDA issuedadministrative complaints against two stockyards for the manner in whichthey handled downed animals. In addition, seven warning letters were sentto markets for failure to provide proper care and handling of downed animals.
Downers suffer horribly, particularly during transport. When callingfor support of a 1992 Senate bill requiring the humane euthanasia of downedlivestock, the Eau Claire, Wisconsin Country Today stated: "Withthe exception of a rare injury during trucking to a livestock auction houseor slaughterhouse, an animal that cannot walk off a truck when it arrivesat an auction point or slaughterhouse is an animal that was too ill tobe shipped in the first place."
Henry Spira, who has been active in human and animal rights movementsfor half a century, has coordinated successful campaigns to promote alternativesto the use of animals in laboratories. He has been a merchant seaman, autoassembly line worker, Journalist, teacher, and an activist for civil rightsand trade union democracy. He is now focusing on the plight of seven billionfarm animals and plans to write a column regularly for the AWI Quarterly.
AWI Quarterly Winter 1995, Volume 44, Number 1, p.11